Today September 20, 1919 "Heck Harper" Hector Vincent Flateau was born in Anderson, Wisconsin to Hilda Pauline (Peterson) & Vincent Joseph Flateau, a mechanic. Heck had an older sister Marjorie and older brother Vincent Joseph, Jr. Plus two younger brothers Richard & James E. and a younger sister Betty Jane. Hector attended two years of High School.
In 1926 Hector's first singing was done at the age of seven before the congregation of an Upson, Wisc. church. In 1928 a logger let him take care of his Shetland pony. Hector had his own milk route, along with a horse, harness and wagon when he was nine. He saved nickels and dimes and bought a mail order guitar and taught himself to play.
Hector started his radio career playing guitar and singing on WJMS "Barn Dance" 15 minute program in Ironwood, Mich. In 1930 when Hector was 11 years old WJMS gave him his own 15 minute radio show, twice a week. He also won the chance as a prize for taking first place with his guitar on an amateur show. As a youth, Hector also traveled with a peddler for a time helping to sell patent medicines.
In 1932 when Hector was 13 year old he peddled Civilian Conservation Corps. (CCC) newspapers. By July 1936 Hector now 17 years old was living at Camp McCoy of the CMTC (Citizens' Military Training Camp) at Sparta, Wisc. A summertime program a month in length, "recently won a contest for the most popular amateur act." In 1938 Hector worked as a "cookee" (learning trade, washing dishes, building fires, delivering meals to lumbermen too far from camp) at the Connerville Lumber Co.
In 1939 in Chicago Hector played and sang with Rusty Ruben and His Radio Gang. Made a couple of appearances with the "National Barn Dance" program on NBC Blue Network, via WLS. In 1940 "National Barn Dance" offered him a five year contract. There was one provision, Hector had get his one-year military obligation out of the way.
On January 20, 1941 Hector Vincent Flateau enlisted in the Army in Milwaukee, Wisc. for one year. In 1941 he was sent to Fort Ord, Calif. Heck sang lead in the Army Musical "Goldbricks of '41." On December 7, 1941 the one year hitch turned into 4 1/2 years when WWII began. In 1942 Hector was sent to St. Louis where he was at the motor sergeants school.
On April 14, 1942 Hector Vincent Flateau, 22, married 24 year old Martha Viola Hendrix of Los Angeles. They were married in Las Vegas. Hector was then shipped out, spending the rest of the war overseas with combat engineers, between battles in Sicily and Italy. Before the smoke had cleared Hector had made three major invasions and fought in six campaigns in Europe.
In June 1945 Hector was discharged at Fort Lewis as a sergeant. He moved to Longview, Wash. where his family had moved, landing a job at KWLK where he was a singer, board operator and announcer for $1.20 an hour. On June 8, 1946 Billboard magazine ran this ad from Hector: "SINGING GUITARIST --- 5 YRS.' RADIO, vande club experience; own 15 minute cowboy program. Free to travel. Union. Seeks hillbilly show or dance ork. Hector V. Flateau, 301 Chestnut St., Kelso, Washington." Around August 1946 Hector left for Pullman, Wash. to work for KWSC. Then after six months he moved to Portland.
On February 19, 1947 "Cowboy Heck" began his first Portland radio show on KEX called "Heck, The Singing Cowboy" weekday mornings at 7:00am following Barney Keep. In the 15 minute program Heck patterned his singing in the Red Foley, Gene Autry, Rex Allen style. In an article August 23, 1947 Heck was deeply grateful for the public response towards his show. He would keep making good music. As Heck said: "I'll do my darndest!"
In 1948 "Heck, The Singing Cowboy" release of 78rpm "The Talkin' Blues" flip "You Can't Break The Chains of Love" on Rose City Records 1005 (label owned by Roy Jackson). Also in 1948 "Heck, The Singing Cowboy" release of 78rpm "Hang Out The Front Door Key" flip "Foggy River" on Rose City Records 1006.
In June 1948 it was reported Cowboy Heck had about 7 cowboy outfits, each a star-spangled work of art, with neon embroidery. "He sings right nice and plays a solid guitar." On August 10, 1948 the show "Heck, The Singing Cowboy" ended its run on KEX and Heck left Portland, beginning his tour of 40 states.
On November 19, 1948 Cowboy Heck returned to Portland for a night, as lead vocalist in Skinnay Ennis western band at Jantzen Beach ballroom. Heck continued to tour with the band for a year. On April 29, 1951 Heck's mother Hilda Flateau died at age 61 in Kelso, Wash.
On March 8, 1952 Billboard magazine reported Heck Harper, (now with a new last name, borrowed from Western entertainer Red Harper), Heck was making his home in Seattle and playing in a night club. He also filled in as host for a children's show on KING-TV for a month and was heard a time or two on several Seattle Radio stations.
On September 7, 1953 it was reported Heck Harper had returned to Portland, joining the cast of the KEX program "Something For The Girls" Monday through Friday at 3:30pm. On October 5, 1953 "Something For The Girls" expanded to an hour at 3:00pm with the additions of Barney Keep & Russ Conrad.
On November 2, 1953 Harper became "Foreman Heck" on his new "Heck Harper's Bar 27 Corral" TV show on KPTV 5:30 to 6:00pm, three days a week. Heck stood 6.3 with his boots on. He sang and told stories of the Old West. The show would open with Heck greeting his "Ranch Hands," (children on the show) then telling a story, a cowboy film was shown as a serial. Heck would sing a few more songs and give some personal words to his "Ranch Hands." The show quickly became five days a week. In early December 1953 Heck left the cast of KEX's "Something For The Girls."
On December 2, 1953 Heck Harper, now a fast rising Portland TV Personality, began playing regularly at "Tiny Dumonts Park" on S.E. 117th. Between Stark & Division. On February 6, 1954 Heck Harper jumped back into radio but just Saturdays taking over the "Western Hit Parade" show on KGW 6:30 to 7:00pm.
On March 13, 1954 Heck was heard on another KGW Saturday night radio program called "The Corral" 9:30 to 10:00pm live from the Division Street Corral at S.E. 171st and Division Street. On May 8, 1954 Billboard reviewed Heck's new 78rpm release "Give Me A Hundred Reasons" flip "You're The One" on Northwestern Records 2337.
On June 11, 1954 Heck rode his newly purchased horse "Jody" as Grand Marshal in the Junior Rose Festival Parade. Jody's real name was "Des Moines Jo Dare." Born August 1949. On June 19, 1954 Heck's "Western Hit Parade" on KGW Radio Saturdays switched its name to "Foreman Heck Harper" 7:00pm to 7:45pm. On July 3, 1954 Heck rode his horse Jody as Grand Marshal in the Gresham Rodeo Parade. On December 11, 1954 Heck rode his horse Jody as Grand Marshal in the Foster Boosters Club Christmas Parade.
On January 31, 1955 Harper began a weeknight deejay show on KVAN called "Records By Heck" from 9:00pm to 10:00pm. On February 19, 1955 Heck added at 15 minute show on KGW Radio Saturdays 12:30pm to 12:45pm. Later in the months to a full hour at Noon in addition to his 6:00pm to 7:00pm show now called Heck Harper as well. Heck's wife, Martha, gave him a hand in answering his fan letters, which number over 400 a week at the time.
On April 8, 1955 Heck rode his horse Jody as Grand Marshal in the Children of Veterans Easter Costume Parade. On April 23, 1955 The Heck Harper Show on KGW Radio moved to 8:30pm to 9:30pm Saturday nights. Program times would change frequently, sometimes splitting up shows 5:00pm to 5:30pm, then continuing 6:00pm to 6:30pm Saturdays.
On April 25, 1955 "Heck Harper's Bar 27 Corral" moved from 5:30pm to 5:00pm on KPTV. On June 11, 1955 "The Corral" program Saturday nights aired for the last time on KGW Radio. On July 13, 1955 it was "Heck Harper Day" at Jantzen Beach Park. Heck arrived in a helicopter to meet his Ranch Hand club fans.
On August 7, 1955 it was mentioned that Heck Harper was playing with his "Musical Ranch Hands" band. On September 3, 1955 Heck's Saturday Noon show from 12:30 to 1:00pm aired for the last time on KGW Radio. On September 26, 1955 "Heck Harper's Bar 27 Corral" moved from 5:00pm to 4:30pm on KPTV. If you were on the show and it was your birthday, Heck would sing his own special Birthday Song to you.
Happy Birthday, happy.
Happy Birthday this is your day
so have a lot of fun.
Happy Birthday, happy.
Happy Birthday we'll keep rolling
until the day is done.
Blow out the candles on your cake
and make a wish,
and we'll have everybody's favorite dish.
Happy Birthday, happy.
Happy Birthday, happy.
Happy Birthday we'll keep rolling
until the day is done.
October 16, 1955 ad: the Grand Opening of the excitingly new and fabulously beautiful Safeway in Gresham. See and Hear HECK HARPER Star of Radio and TV, In Person - Sunday Only - 7 P.M. Heck appeared at many stores and grand openings over the years. On October 31, 1955 Heck began hosting KPTV's new "Western Theater" at 5:00pm, right after his Bar 27 Corral program. "Western Theater" ran an hour, sometimes 30 minutes, featuring old movie Western shorts.
On November 28, 1955 Heck Harper began a morning show on KGW 5:45am to 7:00am weekdays. At this time it's surmised Heck left KVAN's weeknight show. On December 10, 1955 Heck rode his horse Jody as Grand Marshal in the Foster Booster's Christmas Parade.
On February 11, 1956 "Heck Harper's Bar 27 Corral" on Friday's held a talent show for youngsters from Studio A. Heck also gave freely and cheerfully of his time and talent to any show or appearance dedicated to the welfare of children. Heck received numerous awards and honors for many appearances of this type. On February 29, 1956 "Western Theater" ran for the last time.
On March 5, 1956 the debut of "Heck Harper's Jamboree" on KPTV weekdays at 4:30 for a half hour "round-up of Western tunes for lovers of the purple sage and the big somberero telecast." Later seen at 5:00pm. On April 13, 1956 Heck did his last weekday morning show on KGW Radio. On May 1, 1956 "Heck Harper's Bar 27 Corral" moved to 3:30pm to 4:00pm & "Heck Harper's Jamboree" was now on 5:00pm to 5:30pm.
On August 31, 1956 the last of KPTV's "Heck Harper's Jamboree" weekday program aired. On September 8, 1956 Billboard reviewed Heck's new 78rpm release "Hats off To Texas" flip "I Like To Sing of Texas" on Northwestern Records 2405 (red wax). On November 2, 1956 the last "Heck Harper's Bar 27 Corral" program aired on KPTV. On December 15, 1956 Heck Harper did his last Saturday evening show 8:00pm to 9:00pm on KGW Radio.
On December 17, 1956 after the debut of (KGW-TV 12-15-56), came the new "Heck Harper, Pioneer Club" for youngsters 4:30pm to 5:00pm weekdays on KGW-TV. On December 22, 1956 Heck Harper began a Saturday morning show on KGW Radio 6:00am to 8:00am. Also on December 22, 1956 Billboard reviewed Heck's new 78rpm release "Do Right" flip "There Is Fog In The Mountain" on Northwestern Records 2411.
On January 12, 1957 the debut of KGW-TV's "Circle 8 Hoedown, starring Heck Harper & The Wagon Masters" Saturdays 6:00pm to 7:00pm live from the Division Street Corral and simulcast on KGW Radio. Then more later from the Division Street Corral 9:30pm to 10:00pm on "The Corral" program which moved to KVAN. In less than a month "Circle 8, Hoedown" was winning it's time period in ratings.
On February 18, 1957 "Heck Harper, Pioneer Club" became "The Heck Harper Show" on KGW-TV but the Pioneer Club name was still used. On April 29, 1957 "The Heck Harper Show" moved to 4:00pm for an hour on KGW-TV. On May 2, 1957 "Circle 8 Hoedown" moved to Thursday nights 9:30pm to 10:30pm. The program would move back to Saturdays in July and then move back to 6:00pm in September.
On June 6, 1957 "The Heck Harper Show" on KGW-TV began showing Popeye cartoons. On June 15, 1957 the last "Circle 8 Hoedown" was simulcast on KGW Radio. On September 7, 1957 "Circle 8 Hoedown" debuted in Seattle on sister stations KING-TV and in Spokane on KREM-TV. By November 1957 the Harper's were living at: 2091 S.E. 174th Ave. On November 2, 1957 "Circle 8 Hoedown" moved from the Division Street Corral to KGW-TV studios with the addition of Bruce Vanderhoof KGW Radio & TV announcer as M.C.
On November 29, 1957 Heck rode his horse Jody as Grand Marshal in the Fairy Tale Parade. On November 30, 1957 Harper's Saturday morning radio show on KGW 6:00am to 10:00am was shortened to 9:00am to 10:00am. On March 8, 1958 "Circle 8 Hoedown" with guest vocalist Carla Rowe & The Harmony Sweethearts. This was Carla's first show with Heck. He like her voice and she became a regular on the show.
On June 13, 1958 Wunda Wunda (Ruth Prins) in Portland from KING-TV Seattle, was a guest on "The Heck Harper Show." On June 28, 1958 "Circle 8 Hoedown" aired for the last time on KGW-TV. It was replaced with ABC's "Country Music Jubilee" with host Red Foley. "Circle 8 Hoedown" was revived in 1960.
On July 5, 1958 Heck rode his horse Jody as Grand Marshal in the Molalla Buckeroo Parade. On October 11, 1958 Heck Harper did his last weekend Radio show on KGW Saturday 9:00am to 10:00am. On November 28, 1958 Heck rode his horse Jody as Grand Marshal in the Fairy Tale Parade.
On April 17, 1959 Heck Harper's hour long "Pioneer Club" at 4:30pm was seen for the first time in COLOR on KGW-TV for one day only. In May 1959 "TV Preview" magazine named Heck's "Pioneer Club" the No. 1 children's program in the Northwest and Harper as No. 1 children's personality. On May 18, 1959 Heck Harper's "Pioneer Club" was seen in COLOR everyday. On June 12, 1959 Heck rode his horse Jody as Grand Marshal in the Junior Rose Festival Parade.
In July 1959 Heck Harper was featured as Personality of The Week in "TV & Movie Screen" magazine's July issue. On August 22, 1959 Heck rode his horse Jody as Grand Marshal in the Wellington Park Lions Club Parade. In October 1959 Harper was featured again in "TV & Movie Screen" magazine's October issue, in an article on well-known TV Personalities throughout the Nation. Heck was the only representative of Northwest Television included.
On January 1, 1960 after being invited, Heck rode his horse Jody in the Pasadena Tournament of Roses Parade, New Years Day. Parade seen on KGW-TV. Vice-President Richard Nixon was Grand Marshal. On January 11, 1960 "Felix The Cat" cartoons debuted in Portland on Heck Harper's "Pioneer Club."
On April 2, 1960 it was announced Heck Harper was voted in "TV & Movie Screen" magazine, as the Nations Top Local Star out of a dozen contestants. Also on April 2, 1960 the return of Heck's "Circle 8 Hoedown" Saturday's at 5:00pm on KGW-TV. On June 11, 1960 "Circle 8 Hoedown" had its last broadcast.
On June 19, 1960 it was reported Heck's Pioneer Fan Club had 42,000 members. With all of Harper's appearances he had a big western wardrobe: 13 pairs of cowboy boots; 13 white, blue and tan cowboy hats; 24 shirts and pants outfits for rodeos; and 7 Western dress suits. Heck's favorite outfit was his sequin-spangled, turquoise blue suite and white hat.
On July 2, 1960 Heck & his horse Jody appeared at the 25th Annual St. Paul Rodeo. On August 6, 1960 Heck rode his horse Jody as Grand Marshal in the Newberg Berrian Festival Parade. On August 24, 1961 Heck Harper's grandfather "Hap Harper" (Heck in disguise) appeared on The Heck Harper Show 5:00pm to 5:30pm.
On September 4, 1961 "The Heck Harper Show" became "Cartoon Corral" 4:30pm to 5:30pm weekdays. Ad: "Hi Kids...I'm Heck Harper. Watch Our All New "Cartoon Corral." It's A Full Hour of Fun and All In COLOR. We're In A Brand New Barn So That When You Visit Us Your Whole Class Or Club Can Come Along." On the show were cartoons from: Popeye, Dick Tracy, Mister Magoo, Clutch Cargo & Felix The Cat.
On November 24, 1961 Heck rode his horse Jody as Grand Marshal in the Fairy Tale Parade. On January 1, 1962 Heck was invited back to ride his horse Jody in the Pasadena Tournament of Roses Parade, New Years Day. Parade seen on KGW-TV.
On March 16, 1962 KGW-TV debuted "Heck Harper Show" Friday nights at 10:30pm. "A half hour of music presented by Heck Harper" (without cowboy hat) and his band. A memory medley, recalling tunes of yesterday was built into each show. This program was not Western music exclusively. On April 29, 1962 it was mentioned: "Heck Harper, Portland's video answer to Roy Rogers." On August 4, 1962 Heck rode his horse Jody as Grand Marshal in the Deschutes County Parade. He also entertained at The Deschutes County Fair where KBND Bend carried coverage.
On August 28, 1962 Heck's "Cartoon Corral" at 4:30pm weekdays, was shorten to 30 minutes on KGW-TV. The "Clutcgh Cargo" cartoon was given its own 15 minute show at 5:00pm with the new "Space Angel" cartoon. Ad: "Colorful cartoons...guests...giveaways...and songs by Heck Harper on this daily children's program." On September 7, 1962 "Heck Harper show" aired for the last time on Friday nights on KGW-TV.
On November 19, 1962 "Heck Harper Show" returned but switched to Monday nights at 10:30pm on KGW-TV. On June 24, 1963 "Heck Harper Show" after the broadcast, was off for a month and a half Monday nights. On August 12, 1963 "Heck Harper Show" returned to Monday nights at 10:30pm on KGW-TV.
On August 31, 1963 Heck rode his horse Jody as Grand Marshal in the Tigard Town & Country Day Parade. On September 16, 1963 "Heck Harper Show" aired for the last time in the 10:30pm Monday night time slot. On October 26, 1963 Heck rode his horse Jody as Grand Marshal in the Gresham United Nations Parade. On November 29, 1963 Heck rode his horse Jody as Grand Marshal in the Fairy Tale Parade.
On February 20, 1964 saw the debut of the "Heck Harper Coloring Book" 25c. Available at Tradewell stores. On March 2, 1964 Heck's "Cartoon Corral" weekdays at 4:00pm introduced a new cartoon "The Funny Company" which included "Superchief." On June 27, 1964 Heck rode his horse Jody as Parade Marshal in the Tillamook Dairy Parade.
On June 29, 1964 KGW-TV debuted Heck's musical variety program "The Heck Harper Show" Mondays at 7:00pm. Ad: "Heck Harper and his band, featuring songs by Carla Rowe, bring you a lively half-hour of favorite pop, Western and inspirational tunes." Heck sang: "Love Letters In The Sand" & "God's Little Candles." On August 24, 1964 "The Heck Harper Show" aired for the last time on KGW-TV Monday nights at 7:00pm.
On May 17, 1965 Heck's "Cartoon Corral" became "Heck's Fun Farm" weekdays 5:00pm to 5:30pm on KGW-TV. On July 8, 1965 Heck narrated the KGW-TV special "Wild Horses--Brave Men" at 9:30pm. The 30 minute well produced documentary was set in the Native American rodeo at Tygh Valley. Harper sang the title song, written by director Skeets McGrew.
On July 10, 1965 Heck rode his horse Jody as Grand Marshal in the Reedsport Fleet Days Parade. On August 5, 1965 Heck's father Vincent Joseph Flateau died at age 81 in Kelso, Wash. On September 2, 1965 Heck narrated the KGW-TV special "Of Ferris Wheels and Pink Balloons" at 9:30pm. The 30 minute program was filmed at the Oregon State Fair during its 100th Anniversary.
On December 4, 1965 it was reported that more than 100,000 children had been guests on Heck Harper programs. The waiting period was sometimes as long as six weeks. On June 18, 1966 Heck rode his horse Jody as Grand Marshal in the Phil Sheridan Days Parade. On July 2, 1966 Heck rode his horse Jody as Grand Marshal in the Hillsboro Happy Days Children's Parade.
On September 8, 1966 "Heck's Fun Farm" aired for the last time. The program was top rated and fully sponsored but KGW-TV decided it needed adult programming to lead into its newscasts. In September 1966 Heck began a radio show on Country "Card Radio" KRDR Gresham, where he mainly played songs on his guitar and sang during his show. On February 13, 1967 Heck and his gang returned to TV for a special evening of music at 7:00pm on KGW-TV.
On April 6, 1967 Heck filled in on KGW-TV's "Telescope" morning program when co-host R.H. Peck resigned. Harper was kept on the show. On April 17, 1967 it was announced Heck Harper was named Campaign Chairman of the 1967 "March of Life Brigade" of the Oregon chapter of the National Hemophilia Foundation.
On June 14, 1969 Heck Harper and 19 year old Jody were in the 15th consecutive Rose Festival Grand Floral Parade. On November 3, 1969 Heck Harper joined the new radio staff of "Country Click" KLIQ-FM, on the air Noon to 4:00pm. This lasted about a year. On December 13, 1969 Heck rode his horse Jody as Grand Marshal in the Santa Claus Parade.
In March 1971 Heck Harper was let go from KGW-TV along with several others, in what it called an economy move. In 1973 a vet said Jody, now 26 years old, needed a drier climate. Heck gave her to a fellow in John Day. Heck also toured in Wyoming and Colorado that year. Heck & wife Martha stayed on the road in their motorhome until 1980. On December 15, 1978 Heck's brother Vincent Joseph Flateau, Jr. died at age 61 in Portland. In 1985 Heck's younger sister Betty Jane Flateau died at age 62.
On November 2, 1998 Heck Harper, Portland's Singing Cowboy, passed away in Oregon City from an aggressive form of leukemia. He was 79. No public service was planned. Harper never quit performing, was a longtime member of the Milwaukie lodge and played there often. He was scheduled to play the night of his death.
Harper told stories of running into grown men on the street who would introduce themselves and sheepishly pull from their wallets a tattered card indicating they were once Ranch Hands -- members of Harper's big fan club. Longtime fan DeEtte Anderson said "That man was so precious. I loved him, we all did." Growing up with Heck Harper, including the times when her group of baton-twirling girl cadets served as color guard for appearances.
Swing fiddler Bus Boyk knew Harper for half a century and played many a gig with him. He still remembers the last, almost a year ago, when Marv Ross invited the two to play a couple of songs with his Oregon Trail Band. "Heck still sounded great," Boyk said. "He was all dolled up in that cowboy suit, and he sounded great."
As Ross said at the time, "Wow, a cowboy and a musician . . . it just doesn't get any better than that.''
Special Thanks to Joel Miller who helped make this Radio/Television biography more complete.
References: The Bend Bulletin, Billboard magazine, The Ironwood Daily Globe, The Oregonian, The Sheridan Sun, TV Radio Entertainment Guide, Yesterdays KPTV.